Y’all remember one of my resolutions this year was to overhaul our entire family’s food habits, especially the kids. I can’t believe it, but we’re already at the end of the first month of 2018 and I’ll be honest with you, this resolution hasn’t been easy. Not that I thought it would be but with a 7 and 3-year-old who have made snacking a lifestyle, I have faced intense resistance to say the least. I have been discouraged, I have cried and felt guilty, I have been angry and frustrated at least every week and yet, I have been surprised and delighted in the direction we are headed.
Here’s how our first month of a complete family food overhaul went. Week one was a nightmare. Seriously, get your sleep ladies, this is not for the faint of heart. If you follow me on Instagram stories, you know the kids melted down every single day, telling me that I hated them, that I was trying to starve them and ruin their lives… no drama here. (eye roll)
There was more than one night that they went to bed without eating any dinner or snacks. It was hard. But by the second week, we were making progress, especially with my older child. But we still had a night or two of no eating and crying at bedtime that they were hungry. I went to bed crying one night too, telling my husband that I really was starving them. He gave me a good dose of tough love and a reality check and I was back on board by morning.
By week 3, things were looking up. Both kids were eating one bite of everything on their plates without pressure. One night my son ate all of his brussels sprouts without our prompting and I almost cried, I did do a little celebratory kitchen dancing. My 3-year-old still tells me every night when she sees her plate that she doesn’t like anything on it, but eventually tastes everything and eats a lot of what she is served. Currently, no one is going to bed without supper and we are rarely having any tears with meals. I am still introducing new foods and we are taking things very slow.
The world hasn’t stopped trying to force sugar on our children, grandparents are still bringing bags of gummy bears to the kids and our schools are still passing out candy every week. Sometimes I say no and sometimes I compromise but no one gets more than one treat a day, no matter what. I have made a deal with the kids that they can trade any candy they get from school or anywhere else into me for money or other incentives I have. I have been pleasantly surprised that sometimes they do want to trade their candy in.
It has been really important to explain to the kids why we are making changes to our diets. There have been many tactics that didn’t work for us, but the following 10 ideas have been what really made a difference. So if you are struggling to get your family’s eating on track or are thinking of making some changes, these are the tricks that will get you there!
- Be Consistent
This is probably the biggest challenge for any changes you make to your lifestyle, to be consistent even when you don’t feel like it. When it’s been nearly two weeks, you’re tired and don’t wanna fight over food again and you feel like giving in, don’t. If the kids know they can beg and plead and wear you down, they will. Kids can smell weakness. Remember why you started. Remind yourself that you want the best for your children and their health. Keep their well being and best interest for the long run in the forefront of your mind every day. If you are inconsistent, this will not work, period.
- Be Positive
Don’t bully or manipulate your kids about food or they will rebel, even if it’s only behind your back. Don’t tell them eating sugar will make them sick or be negative about any food. When my son says sugar is bad, I assure him that sugar is not “bad” but meant to be a treat occasionally and that any food is okay in moderation. When they don’t like a food, I respond “you don’t like it yet, that’s ok, you will, that just means we need to try it more often”. Be positive and stay calm when the drama starts.
- Stay Busy
This has been helpful at mealtimes when a child is being extra resistant or stubborn about our food rules, like tasting everything on their plate. We play games, talk about our days, tell jokes or funny stories. It distracts them from the power struggle and improves their mood, pretty soon, they’re eating their food without thinking about it. Here are some of our family’s favorite ideas for peaceful mealtimes. I also use this tactic when my kids are begging for snacks, we go play outside, get out a board game or do something else they really enjoy to distract them until their next meal.
- Talk Openly
When you explain why you are making changes and talk through why they can’t have a snack or a treat, kids understand better and appreciate being included. When they are melting down, it’s also helpful to give them sincere empathy. I tell my kids that I am getting hungry too and that means we will really enjoy our next meal or that we need to eat more at meals to keep us satisfied. Acknowledge their feelings and frustrations. Validating their emotions does not mean you are giving in, it just gives them support as they make hard lifestyle changes. Afterall, we’ve all been on a diet and know how hard food changes can be.
- Leave Well Enough Alone
Leave some of your habits in place. We have had pizza and movie nights, the Friday of the first week, I thought it would make the situation harder but it did the opposite. The kids were thrilled that we hadn’t cut everything out of their diets that they love and it softened their hearts towards me after a hard week. And when they’re not mad at you, they are much more open to your ideas. When I first switched up snacks at school, I used a tupperware with two sides for my 3-year-old that I put half Pirate Booty and half fruit to ease her into better snack options. Now, she’s completely switched over to fruit and nuts but it was a slower progression that was a lot easier on her.
- Don’t Send the Wrong Message
Don’t send the wrong message with old habits though. If your kids have had unlimited access to candy as a snack, don’t leave that as an option for a snack. You can make changes slowly but if you want your kids to believe sugar is an occasional treat, don’t treat it like a daily snack. That is confusing. Slowly replacing snacks for better ones makes sense, going against what you are preaching doesn’t.
- Get Rid of Temptations
Don’t leave the kitchen full of temptations. I took all the treats and put them in a bag in my office, completely out of our pantry. I left only healthy snacks in sight like nuts, popcorn, veggies, and fruit. It’s like when you start a diet and your hubby brings home ice cream, so set your family up for success!
- Give Them Choices
This was hard for me, but in order for your children to make good choices, you have to actually give them some freedom and power or the second they are out of your sight, they will binge. When my children were given candy last Sunday afternoon, they looked at me with hopeful eyes and I gave them the option. I was cringing at the gummy bears because they are about the worst candy you can give your children for their teeth and my son has had some dental work. But he chose to eat them and that’s okay. He followed our rule that it was the only treat he had for that day and we moved on. Other days, my son has brought his candy home to me and I have “bought” it back from him. You have to give them some choices in their own lives even at such a young age.
- Make It Work for Your Family
I always tell the story of how one of my best friends saved my sanity when I had a newborn who nursed constantly and wouldn’t sleep without me. Everyone was giving me advice and pressuring me and she just set me straight. She said, “You are the only one who has to live with your choices, you and your family. So you need to do what works for you and your family and forget what everyone else says. Advice is great because it can give you new ideas you might not have thought of, but it has to work for you.” She might have saved my life with that advice, I am not kidding, it was a difficult time. Now I run everything we do through that filter, I constantly ask myself, does this work for our family. If it does, then keep it, if it doesn’t then change things until it works.
- Don’t Give Up
I am a firm believer that nothing worth having comes easy. This is work and there will be highs and lows of changing how your family experiences food. But I promise you, it will be worth it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you do give in or fix mac and cheese more than you should. Stick with it and just keep going, you and your family will get there. Celebrate every little victory along the way!
- Be Consistent
There are so many reasons to teach your children healthy eating habits and it is never, ever too late. No matter how bad your kids currently eat, you have the power to change your family’s food experience. The sooner, the better. Give your babies the gift of wellness and lifelong healthy habits. What is working for you? What are your best ideas for getting kids to eat well?